When it comes to budget-conscious food, Mexican taquerias fit the bill. What’s even better is the growing number of chefs upping the culinary ante on this casual fare.
I Love Tacos
It’s worth the trip to west Pembroke Pines for a visit to I Love Tacos.
After helping to open Rosa Mexicano locations on Brickell Avenue and South Beach, chef Omar Covarrubias decided it was time to put his culinary experience to work in his own restaurant. Covarrubias opened the Pembroke Pines location in April with the goal of creating what he hopes will be the first franchise chain of authentic Mexican restaurants in South Florida.
This isn’t the Tex-Mex version you’ll typically find in South Florida. It’s a more traditional approach drawn from Covarrubias’ upbringing in Mexico City, mixed with a modern flair from his education at the Johnson and Wales Culinary School and the Culinary Institute of America.
There are not much more than a dozen tables in the brightly colored space decorated with simple traditional paper decorations hanging from the ceiling. Arrive early or late to catch a seat on a busy night, or opt for takeout if you live close.
Watching the plates go out to other tables we were hard-pressed to decide from among the selection that includes tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and flautas. We opted for a Mexican Lasagna, plus two orders of chef’s tacos: mole xico and fish, each with three tacos. All were among some of the best we’ve tasted.
Chicken mole tacos were steeped in a rich sauce of chocolate, chiles, cumin, garlic and other seasonings. Fish tacos had large pieces of lightly breaded mahi mahi served with a chipotle lime mayo cole slaw. Mexican lasagna was a decadent dish of tortillas layered with cheese and chicken. Our friends gave high marks to both the steak and bean burritos. We can’t wait to come back and try the rest of the menu.
I Love Tacos, 17722 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines; 954-447-6262; Entire menu $6.90-$12.90.
El Jefe Luchador
The owners of Charm City Burger Company have another winner at El Jefe Luchador, also in Deerfield Beach. The kitschy wrestling theme is carried through the decor with bright-colored masks and vintage posters from Mexican wrestling fights.
Co-owner Mike Saperstein has applied his fine dining background to create flavor combinations for what he bills Mexican street food. Plates also have catchy names such as the Ultimate Dragon, a sweet Asian-style taco with hoisin salsa and kimchee slaw.
Design your own tacos, quesadilla, nachos, torta (Mexican sandwich) or salad with a selection of fillings: lime-chili grilled chicken; chili-rubbed steak; chili-braised beef brisket barbacoa; spicy chorizo sausage; grilled mushrooms with fried yams; citrus-garlic pork shoulder carnitas, or pineapple/achiote pork loin al pastor. The menu is a major step up from the average fast-casual taco joint.
We opted for the chef’s specialties, sampling four specialty tacos and two specialty quesadillas. Quesadillas are not the traditional Americanized version, but more like a grilled taco. Warning: they’re rather greasy.
Overall, everything got high marks for flavor, quality and creativity. Our favorites: the Blue Demon taco with blackened grilled mahi mahi, cabbage slaw and citrus crème; the El Santo taco with steak, roasted corn, cheese and pico de gallo, and the El Jefe quesadilla with pork loin, grilled pineapple, fried sweet potato, cheese and salsa verde.
To finish on a sweet note we tried a key lime flan. While it had a nice combination of sweet and tart flavor, the consistency was closer to pie filling than flan.
El Jefe Luchador, 27 S. Federal Hwy., Deerfield Beach; 954-246-JEFE; www.jefetaco.com; Individual tacos/quesadillas $2.50-$4; tortas $6.25-$6.50; nachos/salad $6-$10; sidekicks $2-$3; Add drink and side, $3.75-$6.25.
Chameleon Mexican Grill
This Weston restaurant has modeled itself after Chipotle Mexican Grill. The menu has a similar design, allowing customers to pick a protein and a presentation.
Unfortunately, that’s where the similarity ends. Chameleon needs to go back to the drawing board.
There are some good points: the setting at Weston Town Center is large and comfortable, with a bar area that would make a good gathering spot. The restaurant says it uses hormone-free meats and no microwaves, trans fats or MSG. The steak had a flavorful marinade of serrano chile and cilantro adobo.
But overall we were extremely disappointed and unsatisfied. A quesadilla arrived as a half-empty tortilla with a sprinkling of chicken and cheese inside. Burritos were more substantial because we asked for extra accompaniments. Yet the vast majority of the food lacked flavor and we questioned the promise of “freshness.”
Chameleon Mexican Grill, 1721 Main St., Weston; 954-888-6121; www.cmgrill.com; Main menu items $6.25-$7.65; sides $1.15-$4.65.